So, let’s get this out of the way early on. The big question on everybody's lips—on their chapped lips—just how long is Phil stuck in Punxsutawney?
This question has been posed and asked before—and director Harold Ramis even weighed in at least once. Back in 2009, Wolf Gnards put the total estimate at 3176 days, calculating that to 8 years, 8 months, 16 days. In 2011, Simon Gallagher over at whatculture puts the total at 12,395 days, that is 33 years, 350 days. Ramis suggested, in response to Wolf Gnards—and I really hope that is an actual guy’s name, because, hey, that would make the world more interesting—that “it had to be more like 30 or 40 years.”
But, let’s get our own figure going. To start, how many days (February 2 only) do we see on screen? Gallagher puts the total (erroneously, I’d say) at 38 days, while Gnards says 36. I’d break it down as follows:
Day 1 – the original Groundhog Day.
Day 2 – the first repeat, ending with the pencil breaking.
Day 3 – the day Phil sees a doctor and a psychiatrist and hangs out at the bowling alley with Ralph and Gus.
Day 4 – the day Phil punches Ned and Rita quotes Sir Walter Scott.
Day 5 – the day Phil gets together with Nancy.
Day 6 – the day Phil steals from the armored truck and sees Heidi II. Gallagher puts these as separate days, but I’m trying to get a minimum base number, and the movie does not require these to be separate. To be separate, we must see the alarm clock turn 6 or see a specific moment repeated anew.
Days 7 to 10 – the days Phil works on his date with Rita. Assume it’s the same day until he switches drinks at the bar (repeat scene day 7 to 8). Then, day 9 for saying a prayer and drinking to world peace. Day 10 to recover from laughing at Rita studying 19th century French poetry. This night ends back at the bed and breakfast, and we get the first slap.
Day 11 – the day the date gets weird because Phil’s trying a little too hard when they get in the snowball fight… and another slap.
Days 12 to 18 – we see seven more slaps. Let’s assume Phil is not stupid enough to get himself slapped twice in one night. Phil ends Day 18 walking past ice sculptures.
Day 19 – the day Rita says Phil looks terrible. The depression gets going.
Day 20 – the day Phil watches Jeopardy.
Day 21 – the day Phil calls the people of Punxsutawney “hypocrites” and makes his winter prediction.
Days 22 to 24 – the mornings Phil breaks his alarm clock. And, the film does not require his stealing Punxsutawney Phil to be a new day (though Gallagher lists it separately), so Phil’s first death is on the 24th February 2nd that we see.
Day 25 to 27 – the days Phil kills himself.
Day 28 – the day Phil proclaims himself a god and Rita spends the day with him.
Day 29 – the day Phil first gives the Old Man money, picks up coffee and pastries. There’s no cue for a new day before he’s seen reading then goes to get his first piano lesson.
Day 30 – the day Phil quotes Coleridge, has a piano lesson, and is seen ice sculpting.
Day 31 – another piano lesson, and he’s already playing “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” Also, though Gallagher puts his “sexually harassing” Ned on a separate day, we can assume it’s on this day; after all, if Phil is now picking up coffee and pastries, maybe he’s skipping the interaction with Ned… except, I just put the coffee and pastries on Day 29 right after he gave money to the Old Man which would have been at the same moment he’s been interacting with Ned every morning, so there’s a flaw here. But, this interaction with Ned is not in the same location as the usual one. And, there's no necessary break putting him taking the Old Man to the hospital on a separate day.
Day 32 – the day Phil feeds the Old Man, and the Old Man dies in the alley.
Day 33 – the day Phil inspires people, saves a kid, changes a tire, saves Buster, gets Debbie and Fred Wrestlemania tickets (off screen), fixes Felix’s back (off screen), plays at the Groundhog Day ball, and gets bought by Rita, i.e. the last repetition.
What else can we maybe assume based on, say, dialogue?
So, what takes up more time?
So, what’s the answer?
Eh, who knows? And, does it even matter? What really matters it that however long Phil is actually repeating, it’s long enough to change who he is and how he interacts with the world. It might as well be a lifetime.
Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: To figure out just how long it takes to figure out how to sculpt Andie MacDowell’s face out of ice like that, not that I’d ever have reason to do so.
Edited to remove the previous "Day 32" as I noticed today (i.e. four days later) that there is no necessary onscreen break to put his taking the Old Man to the hospital on a separate day.